Proposed bill would eliminate mandatory use of FACNET

In a move that observers say will speed up the implementation of governmentwide electronic commerce the Defense Department last week submitted a proposal to Congress that would eliminate mandatory use of the Federal Acquisition Computer Network.

If the legislation - expected as part of the 1998 DOD authorization bill to be introduced this summer - becomes law agencies would be free to use any commercial electronic commerce products and services.

The Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994 mandated the establishment of FACNET to set a standard for agencies and vendors doing business electronically. However a General Accounting Office report released in January found that agencies seldom used FACNET for procurements because of frequent network interruptions and lost late or duplicated transactions. GAO recommended that the administration consider changing the requirements.

The legislation which is a response to the GAO report broadens the definition of EC beyond FACNET this move should encourage the widespread use of EC.

"What we're trying to say is that electronic commerce is a tool to help agencies to streamline their processes " said Wayne Wittig EC team leader at the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. "This [legislation] provides more flexibility to them and will help speed up things. We want to make sure the right tool fits the right situation."

Each agency according to the legislation should use recognized standards for EC and ensure that procedures and processes are uniform to make information interchange easy. Additionally the administrator of OFPP is authorized to designate a single point of access which does not mean a single system through which contractors can learn about what is being bought by the government.

This will open the door for more vendors to supply the government with products and services said Howard Stern director of government markets at Sterling Commerce. "Our discussions with federal agencies about plans for electronic commerce indicated uncertainties as to moving forward whether to use FACNET or an alternative. If this does become law it will break the logjam."

Instead of laying down hard-and-fast deadlines and mandated architectures for EC the government now supports a cross-functional approach testing different solutions through pilot programs.

"The idea is that OMB [and] GSA would work together with other federal agencies to achieve electronic commerce " said Tony Trenkle co-chairman of GSA's Electronic Commerce Acquisition Program Management Office. Enforcing milestones proved to be counterproductive he added.

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